Counselling in Wokingham – Polarisation

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 –

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

They say that opposites attract and it’s true that often we seem to choose a partner who is different from us in important ways.  For example, some people like to talk, others prefer to listen, some are extrovert, some introvert, some are planners, some live for the moment, and so on.

These differences make relationships work – put two talkers together and they’ll tend to be in competition with each other.  An extrovert can help an introvert come out of themselves more.  A planner can slow down the impulsiveness of their partner while they themselves can find it easier to be spontaneous.

These differences, then, can be sources of great strength in a relationship.  Recognising each other’s strengths and using them effectively leads to a sense of teamwork. You help each other out, you fill the gaps the other leaves.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

But these differences can also lead to problems.  Over time, the listener may allow the talker to fill the silences more and more.  The talker, rejoicing in the space they have, may fill it eagerly.  And eventually, that may go too far – the talker may be heard to say “all you do is sit in silence, I’m doing all the work!” and the listener might think (but maybe not say) “I can never get a word in edgeways”.

I often see this issue when I talk to couples about parenting.  One of the couple might believe in being firm with the children.  “Kids need boundaries”.  The other might believe in a more relaxed approach.  “Kids need to be free to express themselves”.  Neither of these attitudes is initially extreme, neither is right or wrong.  But as time goes on the firmer parent can start to feel that the children get away with too much, and this can leave them feeling the need to become stricter and stricter.  Meanwhile the more relaxed parent can feel that the children are being regimented too much and to compensate for this they may want to be more and more lenient, to flout the rules that their partner sees as so important.

What I am describing is a process of polarisation.  If there were a way to measure strictness, on a scale from -10 to +10, we might initially see our two parents as being at +1 and -1 on the scale. Over time they can drift out from the centre, to +5 and -5 or even further.  And then, rather than working together and being able to find compromises, they can find themselves working against each other, seeing themselves as being in the right, trying to force their partner to change their parenting style.  Mutual respect gives way to a power struggle.

Counselling can help by enabling couples to identify this sort of pattern and hence to change it.  Typically, that change requires effort by both parties to change their natural tendencies so that a better balance – perhaps the balance that existed at the start of the relationship – can be found.

About Paul Cockayne

Counsellor, musician, iPhone developer, games-player, cheese-lover....
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